If you want to eat more, make sure you aren’t eating first. And, you know, if you have a sensitive stomach, make sure there’s a washroom close by, preferably unoccupied.
And that, my dear friends, is sufficient warning as far as I’m concerned. 😀
San Francisco city officials are investigating a popular exhibition of plasticized corpses and body parts at the Masonic Center, including whether the bodies pose a public health problem and were improperly obtained.
The immediate issue is that some of the corpses — which have been injected with plastic and dissected to reveal muscles, bone and nerves — are leaking. Fluid is beading on the surface of some tissues, a possible sign that the bodies were not properly processed.
Uh, processed? Is that like bologna or chicken ham?
The city’s Department of Public Health has taken samples of the leaking fluid, and "so far, the tests are not showing any pathogenic organisms," said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health.
But the health department is still awaiting results showing exactly what the fluid is.
"If the bodies aren’t appropriately preserved, we would be concerned that they are decomposing," Bhatia said. "We need to see what our tests show before speculating."
In the meantime, Bhatia said, the department asked the exhibit managers to make sure visitors keep their distance from the corpses.
The corpses are part of an exhibition called "The Universe Within" at the Masonic Center on Nob Hill, designed to be both provocative and educational. In the words of a brochure, it is meant to leave visitors "with a deeper understanding of the body’s form and function and a stronger appreciation for staying fit and healthy."
The dissected bodies are placed in various lifelike poses. One shows a man running, with the muscle dissected and streaming alongside him. Another shows a man leaning over a desk with the nerves in his spinal cord exposed. In all, there are 21 full bodies and 150 human organs.
The exhibition, which costs $10 to $17 to attend, attracted 34,000 visitors in its first month and is scheduled to run through September.
The technique for preserving the bodies, called plastination, was pioneered by German scientist Gunther von Hagens, who used it for medical education. Later, he produced a touring exhibit, called "Body World," that has drawn more than 14 million visitors since 1995 and spawned a number of imitators.
"The Universe Within" exhibit was developed by Gerhard Perner, an Austrian television producer, in collaboration with doctors from the Beijing Medical University in China and the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.
Perner did not respond to requests for comment made through his public relations firm, Charles Zukow Associates in San Francisco.
Questions about the exhibit were first raised by KGO/Channel 7 in an investigation broadcast Wednesday. As a result of the investigation, Bhatia said the city Public Health Department was also looking into how the bodies were obtained and whether the exhibitors got the proper consent for their use in a public display.
Bhatia said that Perner was "acting in very good faith and cooperating with the requests" and that he had promised to produce some documents by Monday.
Allan Casalou, executive director of the Masonic Center, which is leasing the space for the exhibit, said he asked Perner to have separate tests conducted, which, he said, showed that the leaking fluid was not harmful. Casalou also said he is trying to confirm that the bodies were properly obtained.
When the exhibition opened in March, Perner told The Chronicle that the bodies came from Beijing Medical University in China. In the same interview, Enhua Yu, chairman of the university’s anatomy department, said the subjects had donated their bodies to science, although he said some were unclaimed bodies.
Channel 7 reported, however, that officials of Beijing Medical University say they have no relationship with Perner and are considering legal action to make him stop using their name.
The broadcast alleged that the bodies had come from a factory in Nanjing that supplies specimens to medical schools. It also raised questions about whether the individuals who donated their bodies to science ever meant for them to be on public display.
The report has hit a nerve in the Asian community, said San Francisco Supervisor Fiona Ma, because the bodies are from China and "Chinese culture is very religious and superstitious regarding death and the display of dead bodies."
She said she’s asked the city attorney and the district attorney’s office to look into the allegations. "There are a lot of red flags that are popping up," said Ma, who represents the Sunset District. "We’re not talking about a wax museum. We’re talking about real bodies."
The fluid leaking out of the bodies could be either polymer or body fat, said Dr. Robert Henry, a professor of anatomy at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Leaking can occur if not enough of the lipid, or fat, is removed from the body before injection with the polymer.
The process of removing the fat "can take a real long time — two to four months, depending on what is used," said Henry, treasurer of the International Society for Plastination. "If that wasn’t done long enough, and these people seem to be novices at it, a larger percentage of the fat is left in the body than is ideal, so it’s going to leak out."
He also said that a plastination technique that is popular in China may be the problem. The technique omits a catalyst that is normally used to harden the polymer once it’s injected. The advantage is that the body is more pliable. "If they don’t use the catalyst, it’ll never stop leaking," Henry said.
Henry said that increasingly, plastination work is being conducted in China because of the lower cost and because people are willing to do the time- consuming, detailed work that is required. It takes about 1,000 hours to process an entire body.
Bathia, of the city health department, acknowledged that the case was unusual.
"This is a new area. There’s no immediate reason for us to take action on the basis of protecting public health," he said. "That doesn’t mean that we can be sure it’s perfectly safe."
Am I the only one worried about, oh, plasticizing bodies with really really cheap labor? Or, you know, just plasticizing bodies?